Despite the nation's highest rate of carpooling and a national ranking of third in the number of commuters that use transit, the region has the second longest mean commuting time in the country. The dollar cost of congestion in the region, based on wasted time and fuel, is the highest in the country and getting worse. I know this hardly comes as a shock to Members of Congress that live and travel around the region, but these figures dramatize the desperate need for major transportation improvements.
No single element of the regional transportation system is more critical than the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge which spans the Potomac river on Interstate 95. Opening the Woodrow Wilson Bridge for river traffic or an accident on the bridge can create gridlock throughout the entire Washington region, and normal rush hour backups at the bridge last two and one-half to three hours in both the morning and evening. Built to carry 75,000 vehicles per day, the bridge now carries 152,000 vehicles per day and 17,000 heavy trucks each day.
The heavy traffic load on the bridge has shortened the 35-year-old bridge's useful life span to roughly 10 years. If action is not taken to replace this vital bridge, the region and every motorist and truck driver transiting the region will be affected. We could face unacceptable options such as rerouting truck traffic or reducing the number of traffic lanes to extend the life of the bridge. The traffic and economic impact on the region of reducing the already congested traffic flow on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge would be devastating.
As the Chairman knows this bridge is the only federally-owned bridge. I want to repeat that - this vital regional bridge was built and is owned by the federal government.
For that reason, the federal government has an unparalleled obligation to work with the states of Virginia and Maryland and the District of Columbia to come up with a workable, cost- effective solution that meets the transportation needs of the region. The Federal Highway Administration has proposed a bridge replacement project that includes a twelve lane draw bridge and addresses problems with intersections that feed the bridge. The estimated cost of this proposal is roughly 1.7 billion dollars.
I look forward to continuing work with the Chairman, the regional delegation, and FHWA to make this bridge proposal more affordable, but I believe the federal government must commit to contributing at least 90 percent of the cost of a replacement bridge. This would be the normal federal - state obligation on an interstate bridge project; it should certainly be the case for a bridge owned by the federal government.
Finally Mr. Chairman, the problems of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge have been identified and validated - the heavy traffic has shortened the life of the bridge to roughly ten years. We must take action now to fund a replacement for this federally-owned bridge or face a regional transportation catastrophe.